Lapland, Finland: Home of reindeer and Santa Claus

Lapland, Finland: Home of reindeer and Santa Claus

by Jeana Coleman
Stripes Europe

Santa Claus is a real man of mystery. A mere mention of his name can either strike fear or incite sheer delight in the hearts of the world’s youth. Of course, that all depends on whether they have been naughty or nice; no one wants to appear on the wrong side of his list. He’s known to bring good things to those who deserve it. For all the others, well, let’s just say he knows who they are, and where they live. 

Legendary origins

Some say he originated from Turkey, Germany, or from stories of Norse god, Odin. Some call him Sankt Nicholas, Sinterklaas and Papá Noel. In Poland, he’s Święty Mikołaj. In France, he’s Père Noël. He’s Kerstman to the Dutch. In Japan, it’s サンタクロース, and in Russia, Дед Мороз. But don’t ask for pronunciations, because I’ll surely bungle them.

He may walk on foot, ride a horse, on skis or a sleigh. An old Scandinavian tale said he rode on, and even appeared as a goat, called tomte.

But no matter where he came from or what people call him, one small town in Finland claims to be his true place of residency, and they’ve gone to great lengths to bring that magical wonderland to you. One visit to Lapland, Finland, and you’ll be a believer, too.

How it all started

Around 50 years ago, Finnish officials decided that Santa’s international security was stable, so they supplied the answer every child needed to hear: he lives in the small town of Rovaniemi, Finland, positioned right along the Arctic Circle. 

Not long after this announcement, people started venturing to this beautifully rugged wonderland to see for themselves. It was true! Today, visitors are delighted to find that Santa not only lives there year-round, but they can see his home, workshop, and visit him in person at his office nearly all year long.

Where to find the Finnish Santa experience

For the ultimate Santa experience, plan a vacation around one of these Santa-themed amusement parks in Lapland. Each location offers numerous Santa and elf-related attractions, shopping opportunities and fun-filled activities that would even cause Scrooge to smile. Sharpen your elf skills, send letters postmarked from Santa’s post office, and even take a magic sleigh ride pulled by Santa’s reindeer; these and many other opportunities await. Plus, meet old Saint Nick himself anytime of the year; he puts in daily appearances at both of his offices at Santa Claus Village and SantaPark. Just check for his specific office hours when you arrive.

SantaPark and Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi – Find out everything you ever wanted to know about elves and Santa’s workshop at SantaPark and Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi. Children and those with youthful hearts can learn about ancient elf secrets, and sharpen their elf skills at Elf School, learn about reindeer, and even take reindeer sleigh rides.

One of the best features of SantaPark and Santa Claus Village is their post offices. Guests get a behind-the-scenes look at how all the mail is sorted that enters the Arctic Circle, and then they have the opportunity to send mail back home specially stamped from Santa through either SantaPark or Santa Claus Village. Best yet, all mail can be either postmarked immediately or held and sent for Christmas.

Then, head over to his office where you can have a personal conversation with Santa himself, nearly every day of the year. Ask him questions about his busy schedule, find out more about the reindeer, and see if you’re on the naughty list. There are obviously a few days when he isn’t available. Check their website when booking your trip. 

Lapland Safaris – For another special Santa excursion, consider one of these five-hour, English-speaking tours called a Santa Claus Family Safari, which incorporates a visit to a reindeer farm, sleigh ride, Santa visit and more. At the farm, guests learn about the indigenous Finnish people, called Sami, and boazovázzi, or reindeer herding. The Sami began working and raising reindeer in the 17th century. Guests will also take a reindeer-teamed sleigh ride, then (optionally) hop on snowmobiles and skidoos for an adrenaline rush along the snowbanks.  

Tours also provide a commemorative, Arctic Circle-crossing ceremony. And, after a lunch of local Finnish specialties (look for desserts made of lingonberries or cloudberries) the tour stops at Santa Claus Village where they can send letters at the Post Office and head over to Santa’s office to see the jolly fella himself. Tours must be booked in advance, and are available from December to April. 

Joulukka, a secret location – This Santa experience may very well be the most exciting you and your children will ever encounter. Twenty miles from Rovaniemi, hidden deep in the Arctic forest, is Joulukka, Santa’s secret hideaway. Guests have the opportunity to arrive by car, snowmobile or reindeer-drawn sleigh. To the children’s delight, awaiting elves already know them by their first names. Guests are once again entered into Elf School (and receive a different certification than that at SantaPark), bake with Mrs. Claus, then tromp through the forest in the dark of night for another adventure. Watch for trolls, giant forest animals and Northern Lights, then roast marshmallows under the stars in the wide open space.

When guests can’t eat another fluffy bite, they’re whisked away to the gem of the night: Santa’s Control Center. Here the secrets of Santa are revealed; they’ll learn how he and the elves make magic happen across the globe every Christmas Eve. Elves encourage the children to help Santa in his mission, creating a magical and enchanting evening for all in attendance. But don’t think they let all of their secrets out of the bag … his control center is hidden deep within a secret location of the forest along the shores of Lake Sierijärvi. Reservations must be made in advance, and credit cards are accepted via phone. Joulukka also provides opportunities for fairy-tale weddings, themed dinners, graduation parties and other special occasions. 

Santa`s Resort, Kakslauttanen – Need a little R&R for the adults but still want to get some personal time with Santa? Head to Santa’s Resort, a new feature at Hotel Kakslauttenen and Igloo Village. Feed the reindeer, share hot cider and cookies with Santa and his elves, then partake in numerous outdoor activities offered at the resort, including husky and reindeer sledding, snowmobile excursions, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and so much more.  In the summer months, guests can also mountain bike, hike, take part in motocross and forest scooter excursions, and head back to Santa’s Resort to pan for gold with Santa’s elves at Gold Creek. Yes, you’re sure to find a gold nugget or two, they guarantee. 

Wherever you decide to go, remember to see your experiences through the eyes of a child, and you’ll surely feel the magic. And, whether young or old, Santa always has room on his lap for one more wish.

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